Werner Lorbeer
Saturday August 1st, 2015

Energy Transition is Germany’s Hobbyhorse

FAZ Kohle beliebt_2015-08-01_0001Well, I admit the headline is a little polemic. I also admit that it is high time for us to “start”. In my definition, however, it involves more than just enjoying windmills and photovoltaic modules or swarm power stations.

Taking your pencil and doing the calculations with the unobtrusive FAZ article of July, 30th, will show you that the renewable energy production in Germany amounts to less, 00002 % (2 times 10 to the power of -5 per cent) of the world-wide coal-based energy consumption.

Compared to the global energy level, our energy transition is a technological children’s playground, some kind of lucrative hobbyhorse the progress of which is far too slow and that is far too expensive for broader use.

India, China, Africa, America, Australia will not forgo their rights to use coal. It depends fundamentally on implementing processes of civilization and technology in order to separate the standard of living from the carbon dioxide output. What we need globally is an economical, cost-efficient solution. Because the very bad news was written in the same FAZ issue:

FAZ Weltbevölkerung_2015-08-01_0002The world population continues to grow – and faster than we had anticipated.

Personal Opinion:
Once again, it will pay to think about the relation between investments and carbon-dioxide reduction. There is no doubt that there are better processes with respect to the carbon dioxide efficiency quotient than the ways favoured by us through the EEG. Just remember the filters for dust, NOx, SOx and also CO2? Quick, efficient, cheap! Or the possible green-linking of CO2 through suitable agricultural and forestry-related measures – which would at the same time be beneficial for Africa and South America.

Personally, I would rather pay an EEG extra fee that finally ends the abuse of our atmosphere as the rubbish heap of human civilization and that is internationally available as a development aid than continue to feed German wind and solar barons.

(Translated by EG)

Roland Dürre
Thursday June 18th, 2015

Heroes, Gladiators and Consumers.

220px-Weltmeister_autograph_1954On one of the early PM Camps in Dornbirn, Eberhard Huber initiated a really great session about “cultural onions”. I wrote about it.

The “cultural onion” describes of such social systems as, for instance, the Federal Republic of Germany in the form of a model. For instance, the peel of the “onion” are its symbols, rituals, basic beliefs, certainties, values, … And, in particular, the “heroes” of a system also play a role.
This session motivated me to look for a “German” hero. I was thinking of the great classics of literature (Goethe, Schiller, … ), modern authors (Brecht, Grass …) and philosophers (Kant, Nietzsche …). Also, I wondered if politicians (Erhard, Brandt …), people who resisted (Scholl, Staufenberg), composers (Bach, Beethoven …) and musicians (Lindenberg, Nina) and many more might be candidates for the role of my personal hero.

None of them was good enough to meet my requirements for a “German Hero”. Since I am a passionate soccer player, I continued my search there. However, Beckenbauer, Haller and Uwe Seeler (although he came pretty close), too, fell short.

And then I had an idea:
The soccer world champion team of 1954 – the heroes of Bern – they meet the bill! This is the team I consider just about good enough to be my “German Heroes”

But then, this was 61 years ago. We now live in the 21st century. A short time ago, I watched the Champions League Final Match   Juventus against Barcelona 2015 in Berlin on TV. And again, I was surprised to see how excessively all the stars of today are tattooed. I also wondered why they all had such strange hairstyles.

And then it immediately dawned on me:
The soccer players of today are the gladiators of our times. The tattoos and dyed red-Indian and other hairstyles are part of their war outfit. They serve the clubs and, behind those, the concerns. That is who they fight for and that is who pays them for it. Along with extensive marketing, this is how the consumers are kept dependent and motivated to buy more and more. Said consumers will cheer “their” gladiators and obediently buy the products advertised by those gentlemen.

Thus, the contests of our gladiators are the biggest spectacles of our times. If the “right team” wins, the people will go crazy, if they lose, the fans (the consumer population) are sad and wish to die, burning their banners.

Soccer players are the modern mercenaries in our times. They “play” for those who pay best. But above all, they fight for mass consumption. This is no longer about panem et circenses in order to distract and entertain the people, as was customary in ancient Rome. Instead, this is all about turnover and profit, e.g. about “the money” of the masses.

As I see it, this development is an indicator of the decadence of our times. Decadence which, in prospering social systems, can be observed as the preliminary stage of the end shortly before the downfall.

However, we know that innovation is creative destruction and I already look forward to what will come next. And we relish the morbid joy witnessing the downfall of all those who are responsible for this development.. Except that this concerns all of us!

There is also a kind of exploitation and insurance organization for the gladiators. It is called FIFA and earns a lot of money with the new games.

Roland Dürre
Saturday May 16th, 2015

Zero Interest Until 2025

EuroJust now, I again read:

“Quite a few analysts predict that the zero interest – due to the financial politics of our currency bands – will continue until at least 2025.”

Which means that paradise on earth lies before all investors.

Here is what I have to say about it:

  • Talking about zero interest is just a lie:
    Because the only persons who benefit from it are the few who are rich enough to further increase their money by speculating in relatively secure products. And
  • It has always been true that:
    Being indebted will make you rich, saving money will destroy richness. And unfortunately, the poor ones are those who save money while the rich ones (can afford to) be indebted..

Well, this is my spontaneous short economics theory in two sentences/paragraphs!


Roland Dürre
Sunday May 3rd, 2015

Numbers & Taxes & Calculations.

On April, 23rd, 2015, the Federal Ministry of Finances (Bundesfinanzministerium) published information on its website about the entire tax revenue (total tax revenue of the country and states without those of the communities per month) having increased by 4.7 % over the same month of last year in March 2015 to now 57.970 billion Euros. Wow. Doesn’t that sound nice! After a balanced federal budget. Because the economy booms. Consequently, we have a high turnover and increased tax revenue. What a brave new world.

However, it is not as easy as it sounds. There is one adjective missing: “nominally”. Because this would clarify that the number is not such a great number, after all.

Here are a few ideas of mine.

In “West Germany”, the retirement money will be increased by 2.1 per cent in 2015, in “East Germany” by 2.5 per cent. The Federal Government decided late in April that this is going to happen on July, 1st, 2015.

The annual increase of retirement money basically takes the development of the total income into account, separately for western and eastern counties. Let me cite fromRenten-Recht.org:

The data relevant for the increase in retirement money have been processed in the spring of 2015. Now we can give the precise number for the retirement money increase. Due to a statistical once-only effect, however, the retirement money increase of 2015 will be one per cent lower than without this effect. We are talking EU regulations requiring a revision of the workforce statistics. For instance, certain groups of low-income employees have to be included in the statistics, which has a negative influence on the central incomes the retirement money increase rate is based on.

Now that, too, is a topic – just because of a new EU regulation, the retirees get less than they would actually be entitled to. But this is not what this article is about. I conclude that the extra tax revenues result from higher incomes (around 3%) and the additional cold progression.

I also read:

Consequently, the increase in retirement money in 2015 is higher than has been predicted by the German Retirement Money Insurance Association. Neither is there an inflation influence, since the last inflation rate was minus 0.1 per cent.

This is also something that makes me thoughtful. Does that mean that the poor predictions actually make the incorrect increase more legitimate? And how is it possible that persons who have to rely on their retirement money are worse and worse off, regardless of life getting cheaper and cheaper and retirement money increasing? No. In fact, it is not correct. In my own environment, I regularly perceive considerable price increases. For good food on the market, at the (real) bakery and butchery, having to pay craftsmen and doctors, for public transportation, for everyday products such as good bikes. Or for real estate and rent. Everything gets more expensive. Beer, ice-cream and pizza. The increase is actually surprisingly high. And with those (not just) felt inflation rates, those 4.7 % more tax revenues are basically no longer such a great thing.

Only junk gets less expensive. But then, every child knows that cheap junk will eventually cost you more. And fuel (temporarily) got cheaper. But then, who needs fuel if they have no money, anyway? Only the well-to-do (I count myself among them) burn a few hundred litres of fuel each month with their luxury limousines (which is not something I do). The savings might then be spent on a luxury item. For instance a beautiful scarf – which today might well be 370.- Euros at Loden-Frey. I saw it last week. And since even the cheap scarves were all around 200,- Euros, as well, I exited the shop empty-handed. Because the prices for luxurious items actually explode – as a side-effect of which again more tax revenues are earned by the Federal Office. Except that if more luxurious items are sold, this is not an indicator that people in the country are generally better off.

For instance the increase in tax revenues for added value tax and other taxes such as real estate transfer tax benefit from an actually happening inflation, even if it is not statistically visible. The shopping cart developed for statistical reasons is a lie.

Regardless, one should rejoice at hearing that the revenues have increased. Except that you should not forget the opposite side: the money spent. And that basically increases to a far higher extent than the aforementioned 4.7 per cent. Just think of the major components of the Federal Budget such as Social Welfare, for instance pensions for former public servants. Or the almost normal cost increases when it comes to public infra-structure projects. For instance when we consider the construction (Bau) of the Ismaning motorway junction (see also my IF Blog article).

And after reading an article on this where a District Administrator said that “a general increase by 15 per cent for these kinds of projects is rather normal”, I think this is realistic.

Consequently, I am afraid the story they tell us about the balanced federal budget, too, is just a lie. Because we are lucky to have these low interest rates. You know, matters might change quite quickly. No reserves are kept for actually threatening losses. Everybody seems to accept securities that lie in the future for loans, knowing full well that there will be a time when you have to pay them back. It will probably happen quite soon that massive cost increases can only be met by strict economizing, which many parties concerned will have to pay for. Those proudly proclaimed 4.7 per cent will not be any help and presumably the low-wage earners will again be the ones who have to pay the price. Their savings are already being downgraded by the zero-interest policy, anyway.

But let me return to taxes and added value tax. Why don’t you try a hilarious experiment and ask (not just) young persons in this country how high the added value tax rate is? You will be surprised to hear the answers. “I have no idea” is among the harmless ones. Here are the currently important numbers on taxes (from Wikipedia): 
Since January, 1st, 2007, the normal rate is 19 per cent and the reduced rate of 7 per cent has been active since July, 1st, 1983.[2]

And if you wish to be even more surprised, then ask all those people – after having informed them about the correct rate – how much of the 370 Euros you would have to pay for the scarf are added value tax. Many will not know. Consequently, you will get quite humorous replies, but not very often the right answer (that you have to divide the 370 Euros by 119 and then multiply the result with 19). And then people look at their mini calculators and see the result with an air of amazement.

Incidentally, I am quite surprised that they did not make 20% the normal added value rate. The calculation would be so easy: you take 1/6 of the total price and add 1/5 to the net price. But then, who knows the difference between “net”, “gross” and “tax weight” today? And who knows in-hundred, of-hundred, or on-hundred calculation?

To make up for the one extra per cent, one might have lowered the income tax a little. Or at least, they might have coordinated the progression intervals with the inflation rate.

And if you want to further annoy your partner, you can ask him about duty on spirits, duty on energy, real estate transfer tax, coffee tax, tobacco tax, (… Branntweinsteuer, Energiesteuer, Grunderwerbssteuer, Kaffeesteuer, Tabaksteuer …) …

(Translated by EG)

Roland Dürre
Friday May 1st, 2015

The Power of the Printing Press (and of the Internet).

In the “Übersetzerportal“, I found the following article.
Let me cite:

This was the first time Arabian experts, during a UN study, examined the political, economic and cultural situation of the 280 million persons living in the 22 member states of the Arabian League. Among other things, the final report says: “The situation is even worse when it comes to translating books from other countries. Currently, only 330 books are translated in the Arabian world each year; that is about a fifth of the number of books translated into Greek. Spain alone translates as many books every year as have been translated into Arabian in the last 1,000 years. Mind you, the Arabian Countries have the enormous practical advantage of having a shared language.
(From the “Arab Human Development Report 2002“– which was written with the support of the UN Development Program, UNDP).

This makes me thoughtful. Here is another citation from the article:

The per-capita income of Arabians is the second smallest of the world. Only the African countries south of the Sahara are worse off. Consequently, the fabled oil-riches of the Arabian world are just a myth. The gross domestic product of all Arabian countries, that is including the oil-exporting countries, was only 531.2 million US dollars in 1999 – which is less than that of Spain.

The researchers conclude that the primary reason for the Arabian societies being hindered in their development is their own deficits: lack of political freedom, suppression of women and an isolation from the exchange of ideas that drowns all creativity. The study was mostly done by Arabian intellectuals and experts, which means that you cannot write off their results as western arrogance.

I also read about the “books translated” in “brand eins” – and the more recent numbers were no different. Nothing has changed in this relation. Here is a comparison: the persons speaking Greek as their main language are probably considerably less than 20 million worldwide. As opposed to this, the number of persons speaking primarily Arabian has increased and is probably now more than 300 million. In a nutshell, that means: a Greek gets 75 times as many books translated into his language than an Arab. Surprisingly enough, the economic situation in the Arabic countries, too, did not really undergo significant change over the last 15 years.

Columbia-Presse von 1820, ausgestellt in der DASA in Dortmund

Columbia-Press of 1820, exhibited at the DASA in Dortmund

In the last millennium, the availability of technology and media (the printing press –Buchpresse) was a formative factor for the development of various empires, kingdoms and domains (and of the thus developing public sector with the long-term consequence of democracy emerging). Today, this role has been taken over by the internet. However, it is not dominated by text, but by sound and image. Consequently, many more podcasts are listened to than text posts are read. And we have a mass consumption of videos. The tendency is on the incline.

Hence, the number of illiterates increases in the American/European cultural circle, as well. In the USA, they already demand as part of the “barrier free internet” that, for instance, civil office pages must be comprehensible and easy to use not only for handicapped persons, but also for “functional illiterates”. With good reason. While in Germany, according to the “Federal Association for Literacy and Basic Education”, only around 7.5 million persons (less than 10 % of the population) are considered illiterates (source), the number is higher than 15% in the USA. Here, too, the tendency is on the incline both in the USA and Germany.

As you see, the future will belong to the podcast, the video and the illiterate. It is quite possible that the competence to use written language in everyday life as it is a matter of course in our (contemporary) social environment might get lost, as, for instance the competence to calculate or add, subtract, multiply, divide, or extract a second root on paper has been lost or forgotten. Why don’t you just try? For instance when you want to do the winnings calculation after your game of cards without using the App on your iPad.

For the mostly Islamic Arabian world, podcasts should not be a problem for religious reasons. Strangely, though, the Islam also seems to have no problem with videos (see not only ISIS), despite the fact that videos are, after all, just a series of images. But then: basically, we are just talking files consisting of zeroes and ones, be it a document, a spreadsheet, an image, an audio or a video. But apparently, the videos can be tolerated by the religion? Does that mean videos might be the beginning of the end of Islam?

And it might just be that the internet creates a kind of illiteracy that makes the Arabian world again competitive, thus starting a new era for the Arabian World.

(Translated by EG)

“Functional illiteracy” is if you cannot use written language in everyday life in a way that is considered self-evident in your social context.

I took the picture from Wikipedia – the licence and the author are:

Roland Dürre
Tuesday March 31st, 2015

Our Civil Law and its Time of Payment for Services

EuroIn March 2012, I wrote about how it  annoyed me that huge concerns insist on the long times of payment for the suppliers of services. After all, our civil law says that services are to be paid directly after they have been rendered.

With good reason:
A supplier who delivered a product can – at least to some extent – have protection through still maintaining ownership. If things go wrong, he can take hold of his product, because as long as it has not been paid, he is still legally the owner.

Of course, someone who delivers a service does not have this option, because as soon as the service has been rendered, there is nothing to take hold of. I learned that as early as during my school days at the Business Grammar School Jakob Fugger in Augsburg in the subject Economic Studies. But it seems that the law is only taken seriously where violations of same are severely punished. Otherwise they are often ignored, as described in my last article.

What “good old times” were the years around 1984 – when we founded InterFace. Siemens was our first customer. And, of course, being a newly installed entrepreneur and managing director, I told the very nice Siemens salesperson all I knew from school. In those days, the time of payment for services was four weeks (!) at Siemens and the salesperson sounded quite convincing to me when he told me how he needs those four weeks for processing and also that Siemens was the most reliable payer in all of Germany.

A short time ago, in a supervisory board meeting, we again discussed that huge customers often have extremely long times of payment. Our business consultant then told us about the law in Poland. If a rendered and approved service is not paid within a short time, the tax benefit is no longer available. And he said that this simple regulation actually works wonders as far as paying morals are concerned.

However, if the competition from Poland delivers to Germany, then this is not much help. He will still have to wait for his money. At least that is what I assume.

(Translated by EG)

I took the picture from Wikipedia (common property; upload by Blackfish) (common property; upload by Blackfish)

Klaus Hnilica
Thursday February 26th, 2015

Fateful Siesta

Carl and Gerlinde (XLI)

ZZZVimg171Why had it had to happen at this of all occasions? Why when Carl had, at long last, taken his Gerlinde along to the lingerie and underwear fair “Five Elements”? And it was certainly no surprise that, afterwards, Gerlinde was not only disappointed, but also angry!

God, how often had she tried to persuade Carl to take her along when he went to this famous underwear fair where he organized the most bizarre exhibitions with the most crazy ideas and other shebang for TRIGA every year. And where, smiling practically at the push of a button, he always ran up to form like a yeast doughnut in hot oil between those hysterical, cold, long-legged underwear dolls.

On the other hand, you had to admit that this really outrageous thing would never have happened if Gerlinde had not been there. Because without her, he would never have siesta-ed and consequently would never have been confronted with this more than strange situation. A situation that might well have been instigated by the competition. Or by the NSA? Or the KGB? Well, you never know, you know!

But well, all those ’if’–s and ’then’–s were not going to do any good now when the ’stable door had been locked after the horse had bolted’, were they? Of course, the ’horse’ was meant in a purely metaphorical way, since there was no horse involved.

On the contrary. In fact, this entire unparalleled scandal in the famous Berlin Four-Star Hotel during the 11th Fashion Week was all about how to best prevent the activity that could cause ’possible birth’- albeit of a child, rather than a horse.

Mind you, this ’possible conception’ was, of course, only of virtual nature, since Gerlinde – thank God – was far beyond the age where such an aspect could possibly mutate into an unwelcome real surprise.

Yet there had definitely been more than enough demand on this late morning for the kinaesthetics and exchange of fluids usually preceding such a procreation process on both sides. Absolutely! And one had also seen it as the ideal prelude for the siesta urgently desired by Gerlinde on this second day of the lingerie and underwear fashion show. After all, the evening reception given to entertain the international and national customers on the previous day had lasted until early this morning, bringing with it many delicacies on the rich buffet which were consumed along with costly alcoholic beverages. The lively organiser Carl and his charming company Gerlinde had definitely partaken …

Consequently, a few quiet minutes – or even a quarter of an hour – definitely seemed like a tempting idea to both of them around noon.

And Gerlinde would not have been Gerlinde if she had not only immediately succumbed to this temptation without reservations, but also enriched them in no time by practicing a few rather exquisite fantasies every equestrienne would have been proud of. 
It seems like the dressage numbers displayed actually demanded absolute concentration from both horse and rider.

How else could you understand that neither of them noticed how suddenly, not at all far away from the ’king-size bed display parcours’, a young inconspicuous hotel employee – so it seemed – not only watched the exciting dressage artistry with a bowed upper body, a red face and fascination, but also worked most enthusiastically on his iPhone …

It seems that, somehow, Carl must have spied a shadow from the corner of his right eye, because there was an involuntary movement of his head to the right, but only so slightly that the equestrienne who was working with a lot of concentration was not distracted in any way.

And suddenly what he saw was a pair of nosy eyes over a good-natured smiling mouth. Actually, the full head of blond hair of this young gentleman sitting above a youthful, not at all fearsome face like a little crown even added another air of normality to the entire scene.

When the young man, totally fearlessly, put his right index finger to his lips in order to signal Carl to – please – please – remain entirely quiet in order not to destroy this wonderful scene by an inconsiderate move, this, too, fit perfectly into the image …

In retrospect, Carl was almost ashamed about having offered no resistance at all to the directions of the strange young man and instead having permitted Gerlinde to finish the last step of her supernatural dressage! But then, there was not really an alternative for him in this breath-taking moment, was there? Everything was such a matter of course in this harmonic procedure that he lacked not only all concept of terminating it, but also the strength to do so!

And Gerlinde’s cathartic yell of joy shortly afterwards also proved he had been right! It had been an eternity since he had last heard such a joyous outcry over several thirds that seemed like it never wanted to end, accompanied by a cascade of gurgling sounds in between! In fact, perhaps he had never ever heard it in exactly this way?

The same was obviously true for the unknown young gentleman who seemed to be sponging up everything with sparkling eyes and a face that showed the highest degree of rapture. Immediately afterwards, he disappeared just as noiselessly as he had come…

With a slight degree of surprise, Gerlinde – still breathless – registered that Carl suddenly lifted himself up from the ’shared show-riding course’ and hurried to the door, locking it with the words: it is not secured! Shortly afterwards, however, purring like a cat, she fell back into a deep, refreshing sleep in Carl’s arms. …

Only later – unfortunately before Carl – did she discover the inconspicuous warning written on yellow folio-format paper on the table: 
In case you are toying with the absurd idea of informing the hotel management, this little equestrian episode will be available on You Tube within a few minutes.

This was the time when Carl, to his huge regret, had to confront Gerlinde with the unwelcome truth – and thus make the “Five Elements” fair something she would never remember fondly. 
Basically, it was a pity, because the rest of the week, too, had been rather glorious: the underwear sector of TRIGA, which had just recently suffered serious problems, seemed to have really recovered…

(Translated by EG)

Jörg Rothermel
Monday February 2nd, 2015

(Deutsch) Ist da was faul – in Australien?

Sorry, this entry is only available in German.

Roland Dürre
Saturday January 17th, 2015

Legal is Illegal.

Dreidimensionale Darstellung der eulerschen Formel

Three-dimensional representation of the Euler Formula

A short time ago, I was really scolded. Just because I wrote in this blog (Frustration Splitter – Frustsplitter) how happy it makes me to know that Uli Hoeneß has become a day release prisoner with the beginning of this year. One of the reasons is that, many decades ago, I sometimes met him when he was walking his dog. From those days, I remember him as a nice guy.

My short reasoning was as follows: Concerns get away with things for which the “common big-time tax sinner”, such as Uli Hoeneß, will be put behind bars. This follows the motto: “the truly big ones remain free and the medium-sized criminals will be hanged”. Because compared to what the concerns do, the money Uli cheated with was “peanuts”. Even if there are certainly some “tax sinners” who have to accept penalty for damage that is “peanuts” in comparison with the Uli Hoeneß operation. You have to remember that all is relative.

You cannot imagine what scolding I was subjected to. The outrage of some of my readers was immense. Basically, they said you cannot compare those things! After all, the big concerns might have acted “morally” in a bad way, but other than that, they acted totally “legally”. That is precisely the difference between the concerns and Uli.

Well, speaking of “legal”: isn’t this exactl one of the basic problems of our society? Incidentally, you cannot do all that is “legal”. This is true for many things, not just for taxes. Just think of our environment and all the things we are permitted to do, yet we certainly should not at all be permitted to do those things.

Back to taxes: no set of rules will ever be perfect enough not to make “legally possible” some things which actually are the opposite of what the set of rules wanted. Especially if we are talking something as complex as or tax legislation. As a consequence of this permanent sophistication and increase of our laws, we have an immense increase in transaction costs (not just legal and surveillance costs) and an ever stronger misconception when it comes to what we feel is right and wrong.

There is an exponential increase in amendments and new laws. More and more “legal service” and blind achievement are promoted. Only the real big ones can afford this. In fact, even now we live with a state of affairs where some laws contradict each other and reasonable interpretations and decisions are no longer possible (just think of the “data security” legislation).

It is just like with the security glitches – not just – in Microsoft software. You get ever more contradictions and one functional goal will exclude the other. You make a huge effort patching up one hole in the “firewall”, and two new ones are already in the making. It reminds you a little of the courageous slayers of multi-headed dragons: in olden days, those people made the experience that, after having cut off one head of a monster, two others grew in its place immediately. In the fairy tales, the solution lay in burning the heads with the pitch torch.

Another good example for this development is the increasing complexity of our technological and social systems. Many fear it as one of the fearsome dragons of our world. But this development, too, is very easy to explain. The systems get more and more complex because the correction of the discovered mistakes gets harder and harder. Consequently, these corrections keep increasing the complexity of the system. The next generation of errors will be even harder to handle, leading to the next increase. This is a way towards catastrophe constantly strengthening itself.

The tax evasion model is a gigantic advantage in competition for those concerns that win. They accumulate no end of net profits and can invest hugely, which again will give them new advantages. They will end up being able to remove competition they do not like (especially smaller companies) – no matter what the cost – and to steal their know-how. They can afford the most expensive marketing campaigns and, supported by expensive lobbyists, they will seek world supremacy.
This is how the wonderful spiral of power increase works!

(Translated by EG)

Roland Dürre
Friday January 16th, 2015

Golden Barbed Wire

Currently, it seems like both institutions and enterprises are in a state of inertia. And humans always seem to suffer. At least that is what diverse polls tell us. Also, I hear many laments during direct conversations. Frustration at work increases, more and more persons succumb to inner resignation.

I can easily understand that. The collective life in enterprises is increasingly subjected to being moulded into processes. This development has been going on for several years, step by step and consequently not really easy to make out. Yet it keeps getting stronger. Nobody can escape it. More and more regulations and written rules of behaviour are generated. There is a simple answer for every question.

Those who are still capable of feeling it feel dependent and incapacitated. A feeling of powerlessness spreads, dissatisfaction grows, you are frustrated and often do not even know why. At the same time, the systems protect you as never before. Security is all, risks are undesired. The total care through the system is the slogan of the hour.

Actually, the care is something those who enjoy it gladly accept. After all, it provides a comfort zone and promises security. Because you are in a protected area and basically there is nothing you need to worry about. Because you are part of a big “community” – one of many.

This is how the concern employee will feel comfortable. Yet this is often quite treacherous. But then, how does this situation arise? Both as a student and later as a regular employee, I spent almost ten years working for Siemens, where I personally made the experience of gliding into the world of security.

For me, the “lulling process” started with eating in the cafeteria. Usually, that was where I got good food at fixed times and for a reasonable price. And, like most people, I found “my” company cafeteria quite good. Also because it made my life easier.

Well, it means the cafeteria was the central point of the work day. It decided what we were going to eat. There were two standardized meals. At Siemens, we had one “simple” meal (green voucher, 1.20 DM) and a “higher-quality” meal (red voucher, 1.50 DM). The vouchers looked like those coins you can use instead of EURO coins when you need a trolley in the supermarket.

The vouchers were available from a very basic machine. If you paid 6 DM, you could choose between getting five green vouchers and four red vouchers. The same vouchers were available in yellow – for dessert. The price was 0.30 DM. For 1.50 DM, the machine gave you five of them. In those days, even dinner was available in the cafeteria – very comfortable.

The daily choice between green (basic) and red (better) meal became the most important part of daily life. The question “what’s to eat today” certainly gives diversity to the day. It suggests decisiveness and some last vestiges of freedom. Besides, going to the cafeteria at noon provided a break in the work routine.

This is what you get with big companies and institutions – all is provided for. You get food and warmth. The cafeteria as the tip of the iceberg consisting of a complete all-out provision by “Mama Siemens” or similar. “Mama Siemens” (as a metaphor for huge concerns) gives their people a place to work, a good income, warmth and light, and nice offices. At the gate, the security guards keep a watchful eye. The boss will select the courses his employees might find useful. And if an employee had a health problem, he or she could feel free to consult the company doctor. What more do you need?

This is what I experienced as part of the working population during my first years. I sat in a golden cage. We were domesticated and mollycoddled, like tamed pets. Until all this care – and if I am honest, there were other reasons, too – made me leave.

Many of my friends and colleagues did not manage to escape. They became prisoners inside the “golden barbed wire”. Initially, it was the company retirement money that attracted them. Then the dismissal protection. Without noticing it, they became zombies of the system that provided everything. Everything was pre-conceived and pre-arranged. No problems, no challenges.

Today, we also have set processes for everything: vacations, appraisal interviews, the hours you work, business trips, meetings, employments or notices, personnel-related issues, social media: everything is ready-made and served conveniently.

As soon as they reached their 50th birthday, if not sooner, they started looking towards the end with anxiety. And many were permitted to leave before they were sixty – well provided for, but basically too young to stop doing something meaningful.

And as systems always work: 
As soon as the regulations have started, they will never stop. Be it communication, creativity, development, marketing, sales: everything is standardized. „Best practice“ gives way to processes, bureaucracy will flourish endlessly, lateral ideas are not welcome.

Instead of “common sense” you get “this is how we are going to do it”. Creativity is replaced by planning. Transparency becomes an unwelcome threat. Everything must be measurable, even the suggestions for improvement. Customers’ wishes and the needs of your providers will fall victim to the Shareholder Value.

The system overshadows everything. Only what is useful for the system can ever be good – even if this is only allegedly so.

Consequently, the enterprises wear a mask that gets stronger and stronger. It is a fir tree they used to call structure organization – with mistletoes of structural concepts hanging from it.

To be sure, from the inside, those enterprises look different, because the industrious colleagues will ignore the fir tree with its mistletoes where necessary (which is quite frequently) and instead directly communicate with each other. This is how they see to it that the enterprise will be a success, after all – in violation of the rules.

Many enterprises remind me of the image of a city where the pulsating life starts to be structured by the construction of signs and barbed wire fences. Yet they leave enough – basically unlawful – holes for everything to still function.

It is called bureacracy!

(Translated by EG)